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Carlos Santana Breaks Down His Band's Trailblazing Sound

Santana's original lineup reunites for <em>Santana IV</em>, out April 15.
Courtesy of the artist
Santana's original lineup reunites for Santana IV, out April 15.

Being a trailblazer is tricky: Sure, you're recognized for doing something no one else had been able to pull off before. But you can also get stuck being "the one who first..." and struggle to stick around as more people try what you're doing. Carlos Santana has had to deal with both scenarios in a career spanning more than half a century.

As I note on Alt.Latino this week, he and the other members of Santana made music history between 1969 and 1972. This week, we break it down and show you, practically measure by measure, how the band's signature sound was developed.

But we also consider how the musician dealt with his status over the decades: adjusting, pivoting, embracing, turning away from and returning to that magic mixture of Afro-Cuban clave and blues. The original Santana lineup found spirituality in creating this music — and, now that the band is back together for a new album (Santana IV) and spring tour, it's still tapping into that sense of something greater.

For Santana fans, it's exciting — after so many years of looking back on classic music — to get to wonder what might come next.

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Felix Contreras
Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.